Softball rallies to turn season around after disappointing start

by Justin Kramer | 4/2/18 2:20am

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Softball is currently 10-13 overall and 4-2 in Ivy League play, winning two of three games in a series against both Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania.

by Ishaan Jajodia / Ishaan Jajodia

After starting the season winless in their opening tournament in Florida and 1-8 overall, Dartmouth softball has begun turning their season around just in time for Ivy League play. 

Ace starting pitcher Breanna Ethridge ’18 noted that the team was extremely rusty at the beginning of the season.

“First weekend out in February we had not seen dirt, we hadn’t even put on our cleats yet,” Ethridge said. “We had just practiced in tennis shoes in Leverone.”

Dartmouth’s record now sits at 10-13 overall and 4-2 in conference games, and though the overall record may not seem impressive out of context, it is certainly a big jump over last year’s 1-18-1 record in non-conference play. Combined with Dartmouth’s significant home field advantage (they were 8-2 at home last season versus 3-26-1 elsewhere), the team can expect a continued uptick in winning percentage the rest of the way.

“Historically, this was one of the better years we’ve had preseason-wise going into Ivies,” Ethridge said. “When we finished [preseason] at [6-11] it propelled us forward to do a lot better and we had a lot more confidence going into Ivy League play.” 

Though the FAU Strike Out Cancer tournament in Florida was challenging as Dartmouth conceded all five games, the Big Green played well in the Razorback Invitational in Arkansas with a 2-3 record, including a narrow 2-1 loss to a talented University of Arkansas team and a 3-2 loss to Northern Colorado.

Middle infielder Micah Schroder ’20 said the success in Arkansas as well as the team’s two surprise victories against the University of Houston in the Houston Tournament “really influenced the culture of our team this year.” 

“They were great games where we saw the potential our team had, and I think it’s guided the rest of our season and the mindset that we have,” she said.

Schroder, who leads the team with a .329 batting average, .562 slugging percentage and 14 runs batted in, was a key player in both victories against Houston, driving in the game-tying run in the first win and going two for four in the second game.

“[University of Houston] is a great team, so we came into that game knowing that we were going to have to play [well], knowing that we were going to have to get on the scoreboard early,” Schroder said. “I think part of it was wanting to beat [University of Houston] because they were the team that was supposed to win, so it lit a fire under us.”

Right fielder McKenna Gray ’21 discussed the importance of a team mentality going into the Houston games.

“We really sat down, focused on what we needed to do and realized we had put in so much work and that the hard work would pay off in the end,” she said.

The players in the lineup for the Big Green have remained similar for most of the year as most of the changes this season have focused on the lineup order itself. 

Morgan Martinelli ’19 has starred at the corners, hitting .273 with a .971 fielding percentage. Schae Nelson ‘21 has held down the other corner position for much of the year while playing some catcher, but Delaney Marshall ’21, Tatyanah Castillo ’20 and Tessa Grossman ’20 have been getting time at first base as well. Meanwhile, Claire Bird ’18 has settled back into her role as starting catcher, batting .277, which is good for second on the team. Up the middle, Schroder and Calista Almer ’20 have started every game at second and shortstop respectively while setting the table as the first two hitters in the lineup.

Schroder explained how she has developed into a key cog at the top of the order.

“Softball is such a big failure sport that you’re going to fail seven times out of ten, and if you let one failure get to you, then the rest of your game is ruined,” Schroder said. “A big thing that has helped me this year is just not going internal and reaching out for help whenever I realize that I’m going internal and not having the best mindset.”

Loghan Thomas ’20 has been the primary designated hitter this season, and Gray, Tiffany Dyson ’18 and Taylor Ward ’19 have emerged as the everyday outfielders. The trio of outfielders have provided rock solid defense for Dartmouth, with fielding percentages of .958, .973 and 1.000 respectively.

“Taylor Ward has done a phenomenal job coming off of last year,” Schroder said. “Offensively, she’s been doing phenomenal[ly]. She steps up in big moments when we need her to. Last year she was such a great influence in the dugout, so it’s great to see her on the field and still having that same influence on us.”

Gray, tied for third on the team with a .273 average, talked about her early career success as well.

“I think I’ve been doing pretty decent[ly] going into this year,” she said. “Of course, being a freshman, nerves can be there, but I know my team has my back, and they believe in everyone. It’s fostered a really good environment.”

On the pitching side, the team has a much-improved three pitcher staff this season led by veteran starter Ethridge, who has a 2.86 earned-run average with 58 strikeouts. 

“It’s not something we’ve had in a couple years — to have a full staff — and having the two underclassmen, Heather [Turner ’21] and Shelby [Wilkison ’21], has been huge for us,” Ethridge said. “I am able to get on the mound and have a lot of confidence that if something goes wrong, they have my back.”

Schroder echoed a similar sentiment.

“From a physical standpoint and a team standpoint, we have more pitching this year, which has been a huge help. It’s hard for you to lose games when the other team can’t put up a bunch of runs,” Schroder said.

With a host of new players replacing four departed seniors and veterans stepping into larger roles, the Big Green made significant changes in their leadership structure this season. Schroder explained that the team now uses a tiered system with groups of leaders in charge to make the leadership process more efficient.

Team culture has also been an important focus for Dartmouth, which Gray noticed quickly when she entered her first year.

“It was extremely welcoming,” she said of the softball community. “They made sure all of us feel super comfortable, made us feel super important, and the overall team chemistry was just awe-inspiring.” 

Even with their 4-2 Ivy League start, the team mindset is concentrated on continued improvement.

“We’ve had some errors and we’ve had not-as-strong of hitting outings, but we know that there’s a lot to come and we’re ready for that,” Ethridge said.

Schroder added that the team needs to continue to remain focused and less emotional as the season progresses. 

Gray sees success ultimately as a matter of concentrating on every repetition and play. She emphasized consistency in her vision for team improvement.

 “Making sure we have a good approach to every at bat and appreciating every opportunity given to us,” Gray said.

Ethridge said she hopes that the team’s improvements and consistent lineup and pitching staff can carry them all the way to an Ivy League Championship.

“That’s something we’ve hoped to do the past couple years since we did it my freshman year and haven’t done it since, but I think we have a great shot, and I think we’re doing everything it takes to get that far,” she said.

Dartmouth heads to Princeton next weekend for a three game set in an effort to keep up their success in conference play.